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Tsavo East National Park
The Tsavo National Park, encompassing an area of 8,000 square miles (the size of Michigan State, Israel or Wales) is the main stronghold for wildlife in Kenya, and especially for Kenya's elephant population, which in Tsavo now numbers over 11,000 - the largest single population left in the entire country. Although wild animals are distributed throughout other parts of the country, the Tsavo National Park is the only large area where they are accorded total protection and with its varied topography and differing habitats, it harbours a greater biodiversity of wildlife than any other Park in the world, since it is here that the Northern and Southern races of fauna just happen to occur.
The birdlife of Tsavo is unparalleled and all the spectrum of large mammals - elephant, buffalo, rhino, hippo, lion, leopard and even the endangered wild dogs are well represented in this Park. The wise old Leaders of the great elephant herds must have watched with interest, and no doubt, understandable alarm, the changes wrought so rapidly within their domain by Western man; the Slave Caravans that traversed what was then only known as the Taru Desert, following the Galana River from the Coast to the hinterland, with others camping at the historic Buchuma waterholes, with their cargoes of chained humans, ivory and skins; the passage of the early Explorers, people like Krapf and Rebbman, the first Europeans to sight the snows of both Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya; Lord Lugard for whom Lugards Falls is named, Joseph Thomson, the first white man to pass through Masailand and many others. Then came the building of the railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria bringing the first survey parties, and later the construction teams, carving a trail through the elephants' hitherto untouched and unknown sanctuaries and watering places. It was the famous lions of Tsavo that challenged the progress of the railway at Tsavo Station, perpetrating a reign of terror that hampered work for several months as they dragged the hapless Asian workmen from bush barricades and tents, and devouring them within hearing of their comrades. They even feasted on some of their White Foremen who were snatched from rail trolleys and coaches. The lions of Tsavo still display some of the aggressive characteristics of their forbears and are very different to the lethargic Big Cats of the savannahs. In the tangle of thorny scrub vegetation that characterised this region at the turn of the century, the lions had to be tough to survive and also cope with larger prey such as buffalo and no doubt it was this battle for survival that has made them as fierce as lions are traditionally expected to be.
Tsavo is one of the last great wilderness bastions of the world, where Nature has ruled supreme since the dawn of time and where Elephant/Vegetation cycles and progressions have been allowed to proceed unhindered; where famous Naturalists such as David Sheldrick studied and understood the natural recycling role of elephants, that bring about the woodland to grassland cycles, then suffer a natural die-off (the myth of the Elephants' Graveyard) relieving the pressure on the vegetation and allowing the woodlands to gradually take hold again, enriched by the trees the elephants have planted in their dung. With these natural vegetational cycles, grazing species and browsing species proliferate or decline, depending upon whether grassland or bush dominate at the time, but Tsavo is large enough, and diverse enough, to provide sanctuary for all in perpetuity.
The Tsavo National Park is divided into Tsavo East and Tsavo West by the Railway. Most of the Park is occupied by ancient gneisses and schists probably more than 600 million years old, in places worn down by weathering to an almost plain-like surface sometimes covered by more recent superficial deposits, although they as the Ngulia and Ndi group of hills in Tsavo West. Millions of years after the formation of the gneisses (in fact, geologically speaking, just yesterday), volcanic eruptions gave rise to two of the Park's most distinctive and scenic features, the Chyulu Hills in the north west and the Yatta Plateau along the Eastern side of the Athi River. The Yatta stretches for about 170 miles rising near Thika beyond Nairobi and ending at a point 20 miles Eastern Park boundary. Opinions differ as to whether this plateau is the result of a flow that filled a long valley of which the sides have subsequently been eroded whilst others surmise that it is the result of the welling up of lava along a series of cracks in the earth's surface on the line indicated by the plateau. The Chuyulu hills consist of a series of recent volcanic cones, some only a few hundred years old, many of which are comprised of volcanic ash, with lava flows that extend down to lower ground in the Mtito Andei Valley and at the famous Mzima Springs, the main source of Mombasa's water supply. The Chuylu Hills, covered in a beautiful mist forest, (and one of the only forests in the making) act as a giant sponge, absorbing the rain that falls on them which finds its way underneath the lava, emerging as crystal clear springs such as Mzima. Shitani ("Devil" in Swahili) is a volcano that stands about halfway up the southern end of the Chyulu range and here there are three craters resulting from movements of the centre of the volcano during eruptions. Basalt lava flows, piles of lava splashes thrown up by lava fountains, surrounding ash fields dotted with volcanic bombs and at the top, encrustations of sulphur deposited during the dying stages of the eruptions, are all there opposite very ancient rocky outjuttings, visible from just one standing position. The Five Sisters Hills near Mzima Springs, like the Chyulus, are also young volcanic cones. Its interesting and varied geology, its interesting history, its great herds of elephant and buffalo, its unique bush lions and rich biodiversity in fauna, flora and insect life make the Tsavo National Park one of the most unique and important National Parks in Kenya and certainly in the world. Here, nothing is contrived, and wild animals have the space they need in a pristine wilderness setting to enjoy the birth-right of all animals, both wild and domesticated - a quality of life.